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How can I manage photosensitivity or light sensitivity and headaches?

Are there treatments other than pain medications and avoiding lights?

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Division Director PM&R

Answer transcribed from Brightway's interview with Dr. Thomas Franz:

Yes, there actually are some some very good treatments. If you have a neuro-ophthalmologist or a neuro-optometrist in your area or if you can connect yourself with a rehab professional who can refer you to someone, there are for light sensitivity different monochromatic lenses or shaded lenses. The ones that adjust to the ambient light can be particularly helpful.

One of the things that the vision professionals we work with have recommended against is just wearing sunglasses all the time and it actually makes some sense. You'll see patients who do this and it kind of sets them up to have more problems. This is because it's sort of like if you're sound asleep in a dark room and somebody suddenly turns on the overhead light very brightly and how that stuns you. If you're already sensitive to light and you're taking on and off sunglasses throughout the day you're just basically doing that to yourself every time you take them off. So much better to have something that is a photo sensitive lens so that if you're in a dim room it lightens up or if you're in a very bright area it darkens up to help that. Also, some of the the monochromatic where you may wear a lens of a particular color for a period of time can be helpful.

There can also be some subtle malalignment of the eyes where they are not focusing on exactly the right point in space, and eye exercises to improve what's called convergence where the two eyes focus on the exact correct point in space can be very helpful.

The other part of that is it's a vicious cycle. Different problems with vision can trigger headaches and many patients experience post-traumatic migraines and light sensitivity. They will have light sensitivity as part of the migraine, so if they are having either a migraine variant with light sensitivity or a full-blown migraine with light sensitivity, there are many very effective medication treatments now for migraine.

So I would tackle it from both ends. If it's primarily a visual problem I would talk to a vision expert like an optometrist or an ophthalmologist with neurologic experience. If it seems to be more of a migraine-related headache-related problem then I would look at some of the newer treatments for migraines, particularly the single ERP inhibitors. There are a number of them out there being advertised. I'm not going to name all the brands, but this has been a very exciting new field and the treatment of migraines has developed because we have a better understanding of the pain receptors that are involved.